Aquaponics refers to raising fish and growing plants together in the same environment, an ecologically balanced relationship, which is considered a sustainable circular zero-emission low-carbon production model. On the other hand, hydroponics is a gardening method that does not require soil to grow plants.
Both of these methods can be effective and beneficial, although certain plants can be grown more efficiently by the most appropriate method, which is why it is recommended that you learn more about the differences between aquaponics and hydroponics.
What is aquaponics?
Aquaponics is a new type of complex farming system that involves growing plants and fish in the same environment. When you use this growing method, the waste from the fish is converted directly into nitrates by the surrounding bacteria. These nitrates are used as food for the plants, which then return the remaining water to the fish that are free of harmful contaminants, creating an effective and efficient growth cycle called the nitrogen cycle.
While the accumulation of waste is ultimately toxic to the fish in the tank, the bacteria introduced into the water convert the waste into useful nitrate before any fish are adversely affected. Aquaponics allows a harmonious ecological balance between animals, plants, and microorganisms, and is a sustainable circular zero-emission low-carbon production model and an effective solution to the agroecological crisis. While aquaponics is a simple method of farming and growing, you can use many different systems to implement this method, including everything from media beds and vertical towers to nutrient film technology.
What is hydroponics?
Hydroponics is a popular way of growing plants without soil, also called nutrient culture. Using only chemical nutrients and water, this method grows plants without the use of soil. Although there are many significant benefits to growing plants using hydroponics, it is often used because of the consistency of results and the ability to produce high yields.
Hydroponics works by growing plants in a nutrient-rich, water-based solution. The roots of the plants are suspended directly in the nutrient-rich water, which allows them to obtain the substances they need to grow. At the same time, the rest of the plants will receive oxygen, which allows the growth process to continue without problems. There are many different types of hydroponic systems, most of which will alter the water flow and the way it reaches the plants.
Difference between aquaponics and hydroponics
Both hydroponics and aquaponics are very effective as methods of growing plants, and since both methods are able to grow plants without using soil, they can both be beneficial to you when you are trying to avoid using soil. However, you will need to take the time to understand the method you choose, which is why it is important to understand the differences between these two options. The main differences between aquaponics and hydroponics include.
Cost of chemical nutrients
Hydroponic systems require the use of chemical nutrients, which can be very expensive. In recent years, these nutrients have also become somewhat scarce, which further pushes up the cost. On the other hand, fish feed used in aquaponics systems is much cheaper.
Retention of nutrient solution
Although aquaponic systems require water with high concentrations of nutrients, the system can occasionally accumulate so much salt and chemicals that the water can become toxic to the plants. Therefore, the water needs to be treated regularly. When using an aquaponics system, the nitrogen in the water is perfectly balanced, which means that the water never has to be changed.
After an aquaponics garden is fully up and running, which takes about six months, plant growth results should be slightly more efficient and faster compared to a hydroponic system.
Aquaponics systems require very little maintenance. On the other hand, the conductivity of the water in the aquaponic system needs to be checked daily. Due to the natural growth ecosystem that occurs in aquaponics systems, the water chemistry will remain relatively consistent. You only need to check ammonia and pH levels once a week and nitrate levels once a month.
The environment in an aquaponic system is essentially man-made. Aquaponics systems are designed to replicate a completely natural ecosystem, making the system organic. The nutrients used in an aquaponic system may consist of various salts and chemicals that are not ideal for the environment. With aquaponics, plant-based foods are made from the natural process of converting fish waste, which allows for organic growth.
Although insects are much less of a problem in these systems due to the lack of soil, certain insects, such as thrips and spider mites, are still a nuisance that need to be addressed. With aquaponic systems, you may need to use insecticides to get rid of these insects. Aquaponics systems, however, require non-chemical methods to ensure that fish are not harmed.
pH is a core component of any water-dependent growing method. When using an aquaponic system, the pH of the water should be 5.5-6.0, which makes the water slightly acidic. On the other hand, pH in an aquaponics system should be around 6.8-7.0, which is considered neutral.
Similarities between aquaponics and hydroponics
Both of these systems are known for having a longer growing season than traditional growing methods. Because these systems are typically placed indoors, you can grow plants year-round, which means you can grow certain produce even during the off-season.
Reduced negative environmental impact
Since plants are grown indoors using aquaponics and hydroponic systems, there is little need to deal with weed and pest problems. Since these systems rarely need to address such issues, you don’t need to use as many chemicals in your garden as possible, reducing the potential for negative environmental impacts.
Because these plants are placed in a system that does not use soil, they grow 30-50% faster than traditional soil plants. This rapid growth occurs because the plants have access to more oxygen. The extra oxygen helps promote root growth and nutrient uptake.
Plants grown in hydroponic or aquaponics systems are typically able to produce about 30-40% more than other growing methods. The higher yields result from reduced insect pressure and the plants getting more food on a consistent basis.
Bottom line between aquaponics and hydroponics
Since aquaponics and hydroponics are faster and more productive, there is no consensus as to which of the two is the better growing method. Instead, you should make your decision based on the resources you have access to and which method you think you prefer.
For example, if your main goal is to get a grow system up and running as quickly as possible, then hydroponic systems often have faster setup times because you don’t need to focus on growing fish alongside your plants. However, if you are more concerned about the costs associated with the growing method, aquaponics may be your best option, as chemical nutrients for hydroponic systems can be expensive. In the end, the effectiveness of both systems means that it doesn’t matter which one you choose.
Apure’s water sensor
At Apure, we offer a variety of water sensors to help you maintain the efficiency of your aquaponics and hydroponic systems. If you set up an aquaponics system, you will need to test the water on a daily basis to ensure that the water chemistry is in proper balance. It is important to measure the conductivity, pH levels and dissolved oxygen levels of the water. Since the fish in your tank need a lot of oxygen to survive, your dissolved oxygen levels should be high. Shallow water fish need up to 4-15 mg/l of dissolved oxygen, which is why testing the dissolved oxygen in your water is essential. You can do this with our KOG-206 optical do sensor.
With an aquaponic system, your two most important measurements are conductivity and pH, both of which are critical to ensuring that your nutrient-rich solution has the correct chemistry. The optimal pH range for hydroponics is between 5.8 and 6.2, which you can measure daily with a PHK pH sensor. As for conductivity sensors, these are important if you want to accurately control the concentration of nutrients in your solution. You can measure conductivity accurately with a KDM conductivity sensor. Whichever sensor you choose, it will provide you with consistent and accurate results.
Contact Apure today to learn more about these sensors and how you can benefit from them.